Daily Archives: Aug. 4, 2014

Can the Royals do this?

Kansas City’s leader in runs batted in, with 52 games remaining in the regular season, is second baseman Omar Infante. He has driven in 51.

The Royals acquired Infante during the offseason to stablize second base. They did not, I’m sure, think he would be leading the team in RBIs in early August.

But the Royals are not an easy team to figure. They are four games above .500 after finishing 86-76 last season. The improvement has been

Royals right-hander Wade Davis has rediscovered himself as an eighth-inning stopper for Kansas City this season.

Royals right-hander Wade Davis has rediscovered himself as an eighth-inning stopper for Kansas City this season.

marginal. Yet Kansas City just won two of three on the road at Oakland and the Athletics have the best record in baseball. The Royals are just 1 1/2 games behind Toronto for the second wild-card spot in the American League with a pack of teams in pursuit.

It promises to be a wild final eight weeks of the season. Can the Royals stay in the mix?

The offense tells you probably not. The defense shrieks a resounding “Yes!”

It’ll be about the pitching.

And it’ll likely be about the next three weeks, starting Tuesday night with a three-game road trip to Arizona. Following that, the San Francisco Giants visit Kauffman Stadium for a three-game set, after which Oakland comes to KC for four. Then it’s on the road to Minnesota, Colorado and Texas before a home makeup game with the New York Yankees.

That’s a tough stretch. The Royals aren’t playing any world-beaters on the road, but it is the road. Then again, Kansas City is 30-26 away from Kauffman this season and only .500 in the friendly confines.

Like I said, it’s not an easy team to figure.

Kansas City is banking on the young arms of Yordany Vetura and Danny Duffy. So far, so good, although Duffy has to be scratching his head at his record (5-10) and ERA (2.42). They don’t go together.

James Shields hasn’t pitched like an ace all the time, but he’s still the veteran. Still the guy. Still the likely starter if the Royals do get into a one-game wild-card situation. Although you have to wonder whether Ned Yost, the Royals’ manager, would be tempted to go with someone else. Nah, KC didn’t trade away Will Myers so that someone other than Shields could potentially pitch in the biggest game the team has played in almost 30 years.

The real strength of the Royals lies at the back end of the Royals bullpen, where Wade Davis and Greg Holland lurk like a pair of shady characters in “Breaking Bad.”

These two are nasty and they turn every Kansas City game into a seven-inning battle.

Davis normally pitches the eighth inning when called upon and Holland, as one of baseball’s best closers, handles the ninth. Combined, they have pitched 90 innings this season and allowed only 48 hits while striking out 137. They have allowed only 13 earned runs in those 90 innings, a ridiculous 1.30 ERA.

Davis has been a find at the back end of the bullpen after mostly futile results as a starter during his career. And Holland is the best Royals closer since Dan Quisenberry. That’s right. Move over, Jeff Montgomery and your franchise-best 304 career saves. You were never as filthy, or as dominant, as Holland.

The Royals, as we know, lack offensive firepower. Their most dangerous hitter is left fielder Alex Gordon, who ranks 33rd in the American League in OPS, 23rd in on-base percentage and 37th in slugging percentage. Mike Moustakas has a team-high 13 homers; Salvador Perez has 12. Nobody else has more than nine.

First baseman Eric Hosmer is out for a good, long while with an injury. That means Billy Butler, most comfortable in a DH role, has to play first base now. Nobody is comfortable when Butler is wearing a first baseman’s glove.

Lorenzo Cain’s is the team’s only .300 hitter. The Royals have a bunch of guys in their lineup who are OK, but lack oomph. Kansas City is last in the AL in homers with 62, 14 fewer than the team with the next fewest, Texas. So, despite ranking fifth in the league in hits, fourth in average and first in stolen bases, the Royals are 13th in runs.

And that’s where pitching becomes so vital. The Royals do not have Babe Ruth waiting in the wings, so they’re going to have to continue to scratch out wins and hold good-hitting opposing teams, like Oakland, below their season norms.

Get six or seven innings out of a starter, then turn it over to an electric bullpen, one that also includes Kelvin Herrera, who has allowed only one run in his past 19 appearances since June 4. In that span of 18.2 innings, Herrera has given up only 13 hits and struck out 17. He’s finding himself. Aaron Crow can still be effective, too. The bullpen and the defense are the Royals’ best chance to get to the postseason.

The offense is shaky. The starting pitching can be erratic still. It’s why Kansas City hasn’t been able to shake loose from hovering right around .500 for most of the season. Something good is usually followed closely by something bad.

But that something bad rarely happens at the back end of games when the Royals have the lead. Davis and Holland are slamming a lot of doors.

 

 

My summer vacation

Hey, everyone. It’s been a while. And don’t think for a minute that I haven’t missed you, whoever you are.

Anyway, it’s good to be back at work. I’m looking forward to the rest of the baseball season, the start of football and isn’t it always basketball season in Kansas? Yes, it is. It should be another fun year.

I had some thoughts during my summer hiatus. A few. Not many. So in rapid-fire fashion, I wanted to share some of them here.

* We had a great first League 42 season, with around 220 kids, 16 teams and four age groups. It was an absolute blast and we’re already gearing up for our second season. We’ll be having a series of clinics during August and September and we’re already signing up players for the 2015 season. We expect to grow to around 350 kids next season.

* I finally made it to Buster’s, the famous Sun City bar/restaurant near Medicine Lodge, last week. My friend Steve Harper, who died in 2000, talked so much about Buster’s. It was fantastic because of the atmosphere, the town (what is left of it) and mostly because it reminded me of Steve, The Eagle’s former outdoor writer and photo editor.

* I was happy to see LeBron James return to Cleveland. And yes, the Cavs should definitely trade Andrew Wiggins for Minnesota’s Kevin Love. It’s a no-brainer, regardless of how Wiggins does in the NBA. He’ll be nowhere near as productive as Love is right now. And right now is all that should matter to the Cavs. They need to get this deal done.

* The Royals are in the hunt for an American League wild-card playoff hunt. No, I don’t give them much of a chance to overtake Detroit in the American League Central, especially after the Tigers acquired David Price at the trade deadline last week. I’ll be writing more about the Royals on the blog later today.

* It’s been an incredibly frustrating season to follow my beloved St. Louis Cardinals, whose offensive inadequacies are telling. But the Cardinals are still right there, just a game behind Milwaukee in the National League Central. And what a wild NL Central it is, with Pittsburgh and Cincinnati also in the mix. I’ve made sure to have extra Tums with me at all times during the final couple of months of the season.

* Ray Rice should have been suspended for six or eight games. Or the season. Or forever. But two games? Ridiculous. And Stephen A. Smith needs to be quiet.

* I watched an entire soccer game this summer – the USA’s World Cup elimination loss to Germany. Was it Germany? I honestly can’t remember. No, wait, it was Belgium. But I had to look it up. Anyway, I watched the entire game. I just wanted you to know.

* We’re having a League 42 fundraiser on Aug. 29. It’s a roast. Of me. It’ll be at The Abode Venue starting at 6 p.m. with dinner and a cash bar. Tickets are available at league42.org. It’ll also be a celebration of my 40 years at the paper, which comes in November. Roasters include: Wichita State pitching coach Brent Kemnitz, West High football coach Weston Schartz, Campus boys basketball coach Chris Davis, Wichita Eagle assistant managing editor Tom Shine, Topeka Capital-Journal sports columnist Kevin Haskin, KNSS radio personality Ted Woodard and the ever-popular Bonnie Bing. There will also be some surprises. I hope you’ll be there.

* I’m looking forward to getting out to the NBC World Series the rest of the week. Shamefully, I have not made it out yet. There’s no excuse for that.

* One thing I’ve come to enjoy about summer is watering plants and flowers. I’m not sure what this means, but I think it’s probably a positive.

* I also love hanging at the ballparks at McAdams and watching kids play baseball. Probably my favorite thing to do.

* The San Antonio Spurs were a joy to watch in the NBA Playoffs. This is not exactly new news, but I thought I would share anyway. It’s refreshing to see basketball played the way the Spurs play it, with crisp passing and unselfishness. Gregg Popovich has to rank as a Top 10 coach of all-time, at any level. Right?

* I watched the gruesome injury to Indiana Pacers star Paul George once. I won’t watch it again. And I regret watching it once.

* I can’t wait to see how Bill Snyder puts his football team together at Kansas State this season. Quarterback Jake Waters and receiver Tyler Lockett are proven stars. There are three returnees on the offensive line. But who will run the ball? Who will help fortify the defense? Can K-State make a push toward the top of the Big 12 standings? Don’t bet against it.

* Meanwhile, at Kansas, Charlie Weis is going with sophomore Montell Cozart as his starting quarterback. I see red flags, especially with an inexperienced offensive line. KU will have to play outstanding defense to improve. Fortunately, linebacker Ben Heeney is again part of that Jayhawks defense.

* Tiger Woods is breaking down. Watching to see if he can build himself back up will be fascinating. Meanwhile, is Rory McIlroy finally becoming the guy? Seems so.

* Thanks for reading. Check back later for my post on the Royals. See you at the NBC World Series, perhaps?